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Old Sunday, September 07, 2014
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Default 07-09-2014

A history of jabbering

Recently Imran Khan’s style of speaking at his party’s rallies has come under scrutiny. Commenting on the more than a dozen speeches that he has so far delivered at PTI’s anti-government dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad, his critics are of the view that he often uses ‘uncouth language’ and symbolism to demean his political opponents; which, in turn, further encourages his many young supporters to adopt similar patterns of speech in social media where they are already notorious for their ‘badtameezi’ (ill-mannered rants) and frequent bursts of expletives. Though Khan can certainly be censured for espousing a style of speechmaking that is detrimental to the fine art of political oratory, the truth is, he did not introduce it in Pakistan. Before Bhutto arrived on the scene in the late 1960s, political rallies and oratory in Pakistan were pretty ho-hum affairs. Bhutto changed all that by being witty and even a little wild at the rallies that he addressed. He convincingly mimicked the antics of a reckless rabble rouser. This was one of the reasons why Bhutto ultimately managed to make his opponents appear listless and lacking in energy by comparison. He would knock down the microphones in front of him and rip open his shirt and mock his opponents for being sissies, unmanly and stupid. His rallies became unique events as he played the role of an intoxicated political ‘malang’ (spiritual vagabond), who would often ridicule his opponents in the most unabashed manner. His supporters would respond by turning his rallies into carnivals of populist Sufi songs, slogans and dhamaal (impassioned Sufi dances).

Stung by Bhutto’s antics in this respect, by the late 1970s, many of his opponents decided to gradually change the complexion of their rallies and oratory as well. However, as Bhutto’s opponents pumped up the drama factor and volume of their rallies (especially during the 1977 election campaign), it was quite apparent that they lacked the street-smart wit that Bhutto had mastered, though at times he did end up sounding just plain crude. So, minus the wit, the now animated rallies and speeches of the anti-Bhutto/PPP parties began to sound more like loudly laid out fatwas than anything even close to what Bhutto was up to in his gatherings. For example, as Bhutto turned taunting his opponents for their conservatism into an art form, his opponents in their newly renovated style of speaking, retaliated by thumping the dais and loudly denouncing Bhutto’s ‘un-Islamic’ ways, calling him a drunkard and a womaniser. After 1977, boisterous populism became a mainstay in the culture of rallies of almost all parties in Pakistan. Other persuasive exponents of the Bhutto style were his daughter, Benazir Bhutto, and MQM chief, Altaf Hussain. Benazir mastered the part about speaking with passion even if she couldn’t really come to grips with the wit. Altaf gave the technique a twist by fusing urban bourgeois mannerisms with cocky Karachi street lingo. But not all could truly master this art, and in less skilled hands, drama degenerated into something more debased and crude. The rallies were loud, yes, but increasingly devoid of wit and catering instead to the lowest instincts.

That’s what we saw in the Punjab in the rallies of Nawaz Sharif and the IJI (Islami Jamhoori Ittehad) just before the 1988 election. To combat Benazir’s populist antics and robust rallies, the IJI first floated obscene leaflets containing crudely engineered pictures of the late Benazir and her mother in which their heads were pasted on to the bodies of bikini-clad women. Then newspapers reported how during an IJI rally in Lahore, some IJI leaders and workers had not only used obscene language against the two women, but (as one established Urdu newspaper reported), some of these leaders also made ‘crude, obscene gestures’. In other words, the Bhutto technique when it crossed over and was adopted by the rightists, mutated into a jamboree of reactionary abuse. This was perhaps due to the repulsion the rightists had felt watching populist politicians like Bhutto and parties like the PPP mocking middle and upper-middle-class mannerisms at rallies cheered along by the ‘jahil awam’ (illiterate masses). However, over the years, Nawaz Sharif has greatly toned down his ways. Today, even though the rallies of the PPP have largely retained their raving and inebriated character, and MQM rallies continue to be constant roller-coaster rides of sudden fluctuations between sombre, angry roars and populist, self-parodying Karachi wit, it is the concept of bourgeois populism in rallies that is making headlines. Given currency by popular TV talk shows, this version has grown (as exemplified by PML-N and PTI rallies during the campaigning of the 2013 election).

Though Imran Khan now does manage to infuse some humour in his rhetoric and in his penchant of delivering tales of middle-class morality, it is stunning to note the utterly knee-jerk babble that so unapologetically rolls out from many of his young followers who are inspired by Khan’s bravado. But PML-N’s leadership wasn’t so far behind during the campaigning as well. Today, it is rather interesting to note that it is not the ‘awam’ that is getting all excited by such gabble anymore. Rather, it is the so-called educated, urban middle-class youth that is applauding away at this rough jabber. Mind you (and rather ironically), this is the same section of society that otherwise found men like Bhutto and Altaf Hussain ‘uncouth’.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 7th, 2014
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Old Monday, September 22, 2014
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Default 21-09-2014

The rise and fall of a spiritual rebel

As a young man, Ghulam Ahmed Parvez would frequently wonder: why is the unvarying practice of Islamic rituals by Muslims not creating more upright men? He would repeatedly ask why all this ritualism isn’t creating the kind of a society that Islam’s holy book talks about. e would often be advised by his worried elders to keep his inquires to himself. But Parvez continued to study the Quran and other Islamic literature under various religious scholars to look for answers to all that was perturbing him. He then went on to bag a Master’s degree from the Punjab University in 1934. Ghulam Ahmed Parvez was now on his way to becoming one of the most well-informed and prolific Islamic scholars in South Asia. When he migrated to Pakistan in 1947, he rapidly rose to become a prominent figure on the rationalist sides of the Islamic discourse in the country. Consequently, he also became a controversial thinker who would often clash with the traditionalists and the so-called obscurantists until the early 1980s when he finally slipped into a state of disillusionment and self-doubt, passing away as a broken old scholar in 1985. In the 1930s, after mastering the works of some of Islam’s leading scholars and texts, Parvez moved towards studying the faith’s esoteric strains, such as Sufism. He also managed to strike a friendship with famous poet and philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal, and took him as a mentor. His relationship with Iqbal helped the young Parvez come into contact with Muhammad Ali Jinnah —** the future founder of Pakistan. Impressed by the young man’s intellectual energy and prowess, Jinnah asked Parvez to edit an Urdu weekly, Tulu-i-Islam — a magazine Jinnah’s All India Muslim League had begun to use to fend off the attacks Jinnah and his comrades would face from orthodox clerics and anti-Jinnah Islamic parties who accused him of being a ‘fake Muslim’.

In one of his editorials, Parvez claimed that Islam (unlike other monolithic faiths) was not supposed to be an organised religion. He maintained that Islam’s holy book is a philosophy that goes beyond rituals and that anything practised or believed by Muslims that was outside the holy book was a fabrication. According to Parvez, a majority of Muslim traditions were concocted by forces who wanted to portray the faith as being amoral and violent. Parvez had become a prominent ‘Quranist’ — someone who rejects any Islamic text that was not part of the Quran. Understandably the orthodox clergy and scholarship labelled him as a ‘heretic’, but Jinnah insisted that Parvez was to be the one to edit Tulu-i-Islam. One of the first cover features to appear in the magazine (under Parvez) was titled, ‘Mullahs have hijacked Islam.’ In it Parvez lambasted conservative Islamic parties and the clergy as being ‘agents of rich men’ and the enemies of the well-being and enlightenment of common Muslims. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Parvez became part of the Muslim League government but retired in 1956 to concentrate on his scholarly work. In 1961 Parvez created an uproar of sorts in the ranks of the orthodox Islamic scholars when he attempted to popularise the saying of the Muslim prayers (namaz) in Urdu, a language he said most Pakistanis understood (unlike Arabic). In the 1930s, modern Turkey’s founder, Kamal Atta Turk, had already attempted to introduce prayers and the call for prayer (aazan/baang) in Turkish. Parvez wanted to repeat the experiment in Pakistan with Urdu. Though Parvez’s idea was initially supported by the Ayub Khan regime (1958-69), the government soon backed out when Parvez was vehemently attacked by conservative religious parties and scholars. Undeterred by the criticism that was being continuously hurled towards him by religious parties and conservative Islamic scholars, Parvez kept emphasising and propagating his views through a number of books and lectures.

In the 1960s when a group of young leftist intellectuals led by Hanif Ramay was working on an ideological project to merge socialism with the Quranic concepts of justice and equality, the group incorporated a number of ideas that were first aired by Ghulam Ahmed Parvez.The group would go on to join the PPP in 1967 and the resultant project would emerge as ‘Islamic Socialism.’ Throughout his career, Parvez not only managed to invite the wrath of the conservatives from within Pakistan, but also in various other Muslim countries. For example, in the mid-1970s his books were banned in various Arab states — especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia, countries that were (and still are) ruled by monarchies belonging to the more rigid strands of the faith. Parvez responded to the bans by accusing the Arab monarchies of behaving like ancient Muslim kings who had used ‘fabricated religious traditions’ to justify their rule, subjugate the people and demonise their opponents. By then Parvez had even begun to upset some of his supporters as well. Though the conservative Islamic scholars had continued to lambast him for ‘undermining the institution of Islamic tradition,’ and the clergy, a few progressive Islamic scholars began to complain that his writing style was coarse and that he was too much in favour of using his interpretations of Islamic scriptures to create a leftist political ideology. Parvez’s ‘leftist’ stage lasted till about the late 1970s in which he continued to insist that religious rituals and laws based on ‘non-Quranic traditions’ were contrary to the revolutionary as well as the rational spirit of Islam’s holy book. If one continues to study Parvez’s writings beyond those that he wrote prior to the mid-1970s, one is bound to notice that some time from the late 1970s onwards his views had already begun to move away from his Islamic interpretations of leftist ideologies. Interestingly, a detailed 1979 essay that I managed to glance through some two years ago (that did not carry a by-line), actually accused Parvez of being ‘pro-West’ (because he had suggested that modern-day (Western) scientists were closer to the holy book’s emphasis of enquiry and progress than the ulema and the clerics).

Though he was still being hailed by many labour unions as a pro-workers’ Islamic scholar, he was, however, attacked with shoes in 1978 during a lecture that he was delivering at a function organised by the Mughalpura Railway Workers Union. Some of his supporters suggested that his move towards becoming ‘pro-West’ and ‘pro-capitalism’ provoked the attack, but a report in Urdu daily, Nawa-i-Waqt, quoted some of the participants claiming that the attack was engineered by his conservative opponents. Though by now, the Machiavellian and reactionary General Ziaul Haq had become the new ruler of Pakistan (after toppling Z.A. Bhutto’s regime in July 1977), he resisted the demands of Parvez’s right-wing opponents to declare him and his followers heretics. Maybe Zia had already sensed that Parvez was getting old and posed no threat to his ‘Islamisation’ project? In the early 1980s, when Parvez entered the 80th year of his life, he began to rediscover the Sufism that he had first studied in the 1930s. In 1983, he dropped out from the mainstream and decided to visit Makkah to perform Haj. And did that by refusing to wear any footwear whatsoever throughout the trip. He roamed the streets of Madina barefooted and alone. In spite of the fact that the Zia regime discouraged book-stores from selling his books and Parvez was now too old to give lectures, his previous lectures began appearing on audio-cassettes. But Parvez was slipping into depression and disillusionment. Not only due to the political triumph of the obscurantists he had battled for over four decades, but perhaps also due to the ultimate failure of his own hectic intellectual project that desired the creation of a progressive and socialist Muslim society based on the egalitarian concepts of the holy book and modern scientific thinking. In 1985, suffering from self-doubt, disillusionment and intellectual exhaustion, Parvez quietly died at the age of 83. The news of his death was only briefly reported in the press.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 21st, 2014
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Old Sunday, September 28, 2014
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Default 28-09-2014

The curious case of the Imran-Miandad nexus

Former Pakistan batting maestro, Javed Miandad, made a surprise appearance at a recent Imran Khan/PTI rally held in Karachi. Khan, himself a former cricketing hero, became a politician in 1996 and finally rose to prominence in the field in late 2011. Khan’s party has been holding sit-ins and rallies against the Nawaz Sharif regime for over a month now, accusing it of coming into power through a rigged election at the expense of Khan’s PTI that was (according to Khan) set to ‘sweep the polls’ (in 2013). A bulk of Khan’s support comes from the urban middle and upper-middle-class sections of the society. That’s why a number of the country’s film, TV, fashion and pop celebrities have now openly begun to exhibit their support for whatever Khan is trying to achieve through his persistent anti-Nawaz campaign. However, though Khan was quite popular with the cricketers that he played with — especially among those players who played under him when he was the Pakistan cricket team’s captain — no current or former cricketer came out to openly support his political endeavours. So by attending the Karachi rally, Javed Miandad became the first former cricketer who decided to make a highly visible appearance at an Imran gathering along with another former player, Mohsin Hassan Khan. Though this should not have come as surprise, because after all Khan too was a cricketer, the surprising bit in this is that the political support for Khan came from a man who was largely seen to have had a tense relationship with him. Across the 1980s and till the Pakistan cricket team’s triumph in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, Khan and Miandad were perhaps the two most consistent, important and influential players in the Pakistan cricket squad. Both rose to become mainstays in the team under the captaincy of the wily Mushtaq Muhammad but when Miandad was made skipper in 1980, within a year he faced a rebellion from a large group of players that also included Imran.

Miandad was eventually replaced by Imran as skipper, but the captaincy rotated between the two throughout the 1980s. The status of the relationship between the two cricketing stars was mostly informed (in the print media) by what in those days was called the ‘Lahore lobby’ and the ‘Karachi lobby.’ The Pakistan national cricket squad at the time was largely made up of players from Lahore and Karachi. The so-called lobbies were made up of officials belonging to the two cities’ cricket associations and their respective friends in the press. Miandad became a symbol of pride for the ‘Karachi lobby’ whereas Khan became the central character in the workings of the ‘Lahore lobby.’ Neither of the two players had any direct role in this respect; they were just chosen by the lobbies as symbolic vessels to highlight the lobbies’ own cases, causes and concerns. More than twice Miandad voluntarily stepped down as captain in favour of Imran but the Karachi press cried foul, turning it into a Karachi vs Lahore issue. Even when Miandad was named Khan’s deputy in 1987, news about the acrimony between the team’s two leading men continued to make the rounds. What’s more, in the late 1980s when the Karachi-based MQM rose to power in urban Sindh, it adopted Miandad ‘as hero of Karachi’ (and of Mohajirs). During an ODI against the visiting West Indies in Karachi’s National Stadium in 1989, the huge crowd in the stadium’s General Stand, carrying MQM flags erupted with joy and slogans in favour of Miandad when he came in to bat. The same crowd then taunted Khan when it was his turn to bat, accusing him of usurping the captaincy from a Karachi player (Miandad). But what exactly was going on between Miandad and Khan? Was there really that much bitterness and tension between the two? As mentioned earlier, much on this subject was being derived from what was being written in the populist Urdu press at the time and through reports that were clearly being influenced by individual stances taken by the Karachi and Lahore lobbies.

The truth finally came out when autobiographies of Khan and Miandad were published. In his two books, Khan tried to defend his position during the 1981 rebellion against Miandad, but very few know that along with Wasim Raja and Mohsin Khan, Imran was one of the first players to break away from the rebel group (headed by his cousin and mentor, Majid Khan). This was told to me by former Pakistan swing bowler, Sikandar Bakht, who also claimed that this was one of the main reasons why Khan had a falling out with Majid. On the other hand, Miandad in his autobiography writes that he was hurt to see Imran become part of the 1981 rebellion. This suggests that till then Khan and Miandad were on good terms. Miandad does not blame Khan for the rebellion, though. He puts all the blame on the captaincy ambitions of Majid and Zaheer Abbas. Khan in his autobiography praises Miandad as a master batsman and a great team player, but criticises him as a captain, suggesting that his time at the helm was tainted by immaturity, bad man-management and impulsiveness. Khan also suggests that the whole Karachi vs Lahore issue was cooked up by the press as there was no such divide in the team. It is also quite clear that Khan valued Miandad as his deputy. This was first picked up by famous Australian commentator, Ritchie Benaud, during a Test match in England (in 1987) in which the Pakistan team had to stop England from achieving a small winning total in about 20 overs. Benaud was fascinated to see that the field on the off side was being marshalled by Miandad and the one on the on side by Khan. Also, according to former Pakistan opener and famous commentator, Ramiz Raja, though no player would dare question Khan’s decisions, Miandad was the only player who would regularly do so and that Imran would often implement Miandad’s suggestions. That’s why when TV screens were showing Miandad whispering into Khan’s ears at the PTI rally in Karachi, a former Test player sent me an sms: ‘Ha! He’s still in his ears!’ The truth is relationship between Khan and Miandad was one of mutual respect, admiration and trust. But not always. There was some misunderstanding and (thus) hurt involved as well.

In his book, Miandad does accuse Khan of engineering the second rebellion that Miandad faced as captain in 1993 (after Khan had retired). He claims that Khan influenced players like Wasim Akram and Waqar Yunus (Khan’s two main protégées) to topple Miandad as captain because he (Khan) was ‘jealous’ of Miandad’s continuing cricketing career. However, Miandad then goes on to dedicate a whole chapter on Khan’s achievements as cricketer and philanthropist and welcomes Khan’s foray into politics saying that ‘Pakistani politics need honest men like Imran Khan.’ Some cynics suggest that Miandad would not have shown his support for Khan’s recent political stance had he (Miandad) not gotten such a ‘rough deal’ from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). One such sceptic said to me, ‘Miandad was chucked out (from PCB) by the people in the current cricket set-up, so he welcomed Khan’s tirades against PCB.’ I disagree. Because in his autobiography that was published 11 years ago (2003), Miandad had already expressed his support for Khan’s political endeavours. There were certainly sporadic episodes of professional and personal bitterness between the two cricketing giants, but one is now certain that the tensions between the two were not the kind that the media and the respective Karachi and Lahore lobbies had painted them to be. Finally I emailed a friend and prominent MQM leader, asking him what his party thought about Miandad’s move. As young men both of us had watched the game in Karachi in 1989 in which men and women waving MQM flags had hailed Miandad as ‘Karachi’s hero.’ This was his reply: ‘Miandad proved that Karachiites are big-hearted. He is still Karachi’s leading hero along with Sattar Edhi. To MQM, anyone who loves Karachi and cares about it is a hero, no matter what his or her political affiliation. What is good for Karachi is good for Sindh. What is good for Sindh, is good for Pakistan.’


Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 28th, 2014
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Old Sunday, October 05, 2014
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Default 05-10-2014

In the middle of it all

After Benazir Bhutto’s tragic demise at the hands of terrorists in December 2007, the obvious vacuum in the country’s principal civilian political leadership was first filled by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and then by Mian Nawaz Sharif. Both gentlemen, though belonging to different parties and stirred by divergent political trajectories, have continually found themselves sailing on the same boat. The initial reason for this was an unprecedented understanding between the PPP and the PML-N during the Musharraf regime (1999-2008). Both parties confessed that (in the 1990s) they had been used and abused by the ‘establishment’ and that they had wasted much of their energies on battling one another over issues that went beyond electoral politics and were undemocratic in nature. This understanding was reached in the early 2000s between the former chairperson of the PPP, Benazir Bhutto, and the head of the PML-N, Mian Nawaz Sharif, when the Musharraf dictatorship was trying to degrade their influence. But whereas the PPP managed to make an impressive comeback during the 2008 election and then the PML-N gambolled towards victory in the 2013 election, much in Pakistan had changed — so much so that at times both the PPP and the PML-N actually began to seem rather unable to comprehend these changes. The Musharraf regime’s economic policies accelerated the development of an already evolving phenomenon that (ever since the 1980s) was seeing the gradual expansion of the urban middle-classes. Though Musharraf’s economic manoeuvres eventually lost their steam and fizz and plunged the economy into despair, his regime’s early initiatives did succeed in bolstering the economic and social influence of the urban middle and lower middle-classes.

This influence also began to shape the political aspirations of these classes. These classes became an important part of the country’s economic and social elites, but were left frustrated when they perceived that their entry into the corridors of the ruling elite was blocked by the traditional electoral dynamics of the country’s political system. Ever since the late 1970s, Pakistan’s urban bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie have largely felt an (albeit elusive) kinship with regimes run by military dictators and technocrats. Maybe this is due to the fact that dictators and technocrats come into power by overriding the country’s traditional electoral politics — a system the bourgeoisie think is stacked against them. Also, Pakistan’s bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie have historically been a conservative lot and interestingly, their growing influence in matters of the economy and society has not much impacted their traditional conservative disposition. If it has, then it has done so by only updating this disposition according to the social, cultural and economic dynamics of post-Cold War capitalism. For example, the acquirement of modern-day materialistic satisfaction (and the exhibition of the products that represent this satisfaction) is an important aspect of the behaviourism of Pakistan’s middle-classes. However, though the nature of the mentioned materialism and the act of interacting with the products associated with this materialism is inherently an amoral act, reflecting ‘lifestyle liberalism,’ in Pakistan, all this is merged with the traditional conservatism of the urban middle and lower-middle-classes. That’s why this merged mind-set among these classes is producing cultural, social and economic expressions that may seem rather contradictory (even ‘hypocritical’) on an objective level but is comprehended as being some kind of an ingenious fusion of amoral Western materialism and ‘decent’ Eastern spiritual rituals and values. It’s an elaborate but convenient concoction. In other words the growing economic and social influence of the urban Pakistani middle-classes has begun to generate various material and cultural concoctions that are now becoming part of the political narratives and aspirations of these classes. Critics have lamented that all this is eroding the concept of politics that was once enacted to cater and address issues faced by the country’s working and peasant classes (who are in the majority).

But it is also true that though the orientation of Pakistan’s traditional mainstream (civilian) politics has always been geared towards appealing to the issues and aspirations of the country’s working and peasant classes, not much has been achieved in this respect. On the other hand the growing political ambitions of the middle-class insist that it is this particular class that is best suited to address the issues faced by all Pakistanis, no matter how abstract (and jingoistic) this class’s approach to discussing what ails this country. Whatever the case may be, it is a fact that, at least on the surface, the mainstream narratives that have been circulating in and around politics in Pakistan are now being dominated and driven by ideas and ideals of the urban bourgeoisie (thanks mainly to the proliferation of private TV news channels that have become the mouthpiece of these narratives). But the question is, though these narratives and ideals are now being vigorously discussed on the mainstream electronic, print and social Medias, can they attract and gain any electoral mileage? PML-N’s successes in urban and semi-urban Punjab ever since the 1990s, and MQM’s prevailing electoral supremacy in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, would suggest that yes, political narratives weaved from middle and lower-middle-class ideals and issues, can achieve electoral success. PML-N was perhaps the first party to use the aforementioned narrative that merged modern amoral capitalistic notions of progress with traditional Pakistani bourgeoisie/petit-bourgeoisie morality to attract the electoral interest of Punjab’s middle and lower-middle-classes. MQM did the same in Karachi. But unlike the PML-N, MQM merged notions and symbols of amoral material ‘progress’ and modernisation with the idea of ‘social moderate-ism’ and/or with what it calls ‘indigenous liberalism’ — which the party suggests is inherent in the make-up of Karachi’s middle/lower-middle-class Mohajir majority. MQM eschewed any notion of bourgeoisie morality mainly because it understands it to be squarely associated with the Punjabis and the Pakhtuns — the two ethnic groups that are competing with the Mohajirs over Karachi’s dwindling economic resources. The morality aspect by the MQM was instead replaced with an attack on feudalism — a concept that in reality is actually rapidly receding and eroding (due to widespread urbanisation), but still strikes a chord in the urban middle classes when rhetorically denounced.

Over the years both the PML-N and the MQM seemed to have been sucked into the traditional (and lethargic) ways of Pakistan’s political system. Consequently both might have lost touch with the changing dynamics of their main bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie constituencies. This has boded well for Imran Khan’s PTI whose recent rise is thus the result of it usurping PML-N’s fusion of capitalist progress and bourgeois morality, and MQM’s ‘social middle-class moderation’ and ‘anti-feudalism’. PTI then further added to this some left-leaning rhetorical populism to stand out as the new, ‘revolutionary’ expression of the political aspirations of Pakistan’s urban middle and lower-middle-classes. This may also explain why PTI’s leader Imran Khan can at times sound like an alluring ideological potpourri of liberalism, socialism, capitalism, religious fundamentalism and demagogic populism — sometimes within a single speech! These days the private electronic media has been overwhelming its viewers with its coverage of PML-N, PTI and MQM. That is because these three parties are competing for the same constituencies. PTI is gunning for PML-N’s main middle and lower-middle-class constituencies in central and northern Punjab, and for Karachi’s middle and lower-middle-class votes, leaving both the PMLN and MQM feeling nervous and shaky. This tussle may very well open up a discreet pathway for the left-leaning PPP that began to lose urban middle-class votes from the late 1970s onwards. It can take this opportunity to quietly jump in and try to attract the electoral interests of those members of the growing new middle and lower-middle-classes who may come out feeling disorientated and disillusioned by the PML-N-PTI scrimmage. The photo of Javaid Miandad and Imran Khan published last week is the exclusive property of Iqbal Munir.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 5th, 2014
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Default 12-10-2014

Photoshopping history

Much has been written and lamented about how over the decades the state and various governments of Pakistan mutilated history books taught at schools and colleges. What should have been a purely academic exercise of teaching young minds the history of the land’s politics, culture and faith as seen and recorded from various angles, was gradually turned into a myopic project that constructed various myths and biases to concoct a largely non-organic ideological brew. Whenever newspaper op-eds and editorials whinge how we as a state and society refuse to learn from history and continue to make the same mistakes, I always retort that this is because the history we are taught in our educational institutions is not a teacher but a deceiver. How can we learn from history? We were never taught how to. We are taught just one version of history in which we pat ourselves on the back for being the extension of a glorious people out to create an even more glorious future. Why this does not seem to be happening is because our glorious ways are supposedly being adulterated, sabotaged and conspired against by a host of ‘enemies’. So what is there to be learned from the many mistakes that we have made — mistakes that have continued to retard the political, social and economic evolution of Pakistan? In our history books they are not mistakes at all, but rather gallant manoeuvres to ‘safeguard the ideological, geographical and religious borders of Pakistan’. This should suggest that we actually need to keep repeating them, no matter what the cost. To get a better, detailed and more articulate account of this awkward predicament, I’d suggest young Pakistanis searching for answers beyond their history books to read authors like Dr. Mubarak Ali (History on Trial, In Search of History), Rubina Saigol (The Besieged Self in Pakistani Text Books), A.H. Nayyar (The Subtle Subversion) and K.K. Aziz (Murder of History, The Pakistani Historian). The project of building a monolithic ideology for Pakistan that would bypass the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural make-up began soon after the country’s creation (in August 1947 or more so, after the early death of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1948). But work in this regard really began in earnest during the Ayub Khan dictatorship (1958-69). However, according to Dr. Mubarak Ali the project to infuse a mythical nationalistic singularity in the minds of a multi-ethnic polity was given a lot more push right after East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh in 1971.

Ali suggests that throughout the populist Z.A. Bhutto/PPP regime (1971-77), government-funded seminars were held to thrash out an ideological singularity. And it was during this period that cherry-picked moments from the land’s history and even many half-truths in this context began to be weaved into school text books. During the Bhutto regime, the project remained to be a work-in-progress that would nevertheless reach completion during the reactionary dictatorship of Gen Zia (1977-88). By then the raison d’etre of the creation of Pakistan was no more explained as something to do with democratic Muslim nationalism, but as an evolutionary episode enacted to culminate as a militaristic and hidebound epicentre of faith that was to drive and manoeuvre the nation’s politics, society and state. I was part of that generation of school-going children who became one of the first mice that were experimented upon during the project’s more forceful turn in the 1970s. In 1974 when I entered the 3rd grade in school we were taught history from a book that (I think) was authored in the early 1960s. The book, History of Pakistan, began with the five thousand years old Indus Valley Civilisation and galloped all the way to the creation of Pakistan in 1947. But students in the third grade were taught history till the reign of Hindu-turned-Buddhist king, Asoka (269 BCE). I remember the students’ favourite was the chapter on Gautama Buddha, the ancient Indian sage and the founder of Buddhism. His story to us became even more fascinating when we were encouraged by our history teacher to go and watch the film Buddha that was running at Karachi’s Palace cinema. The film was made in Hong Kong and was in Chinese (with dialogues dubbed into English); but imagine a child’s delight in being told that his homework included watching amovie. Well, the idea was to teach the students the 5,000 year-old history of South Asia (especially in the context of Pakistan), in various stages and across ten grades. For example, we were supposed to cover the history of the region from Asoka to the 8th Century Arab invasion of Sindh in the fifth grade and then move on to cover other eras and periods in the next five grades.

But in 1975 when I entered the fourth grade, our history books did not begin with what came after Asoka. Suddenly hundreds of years of history were simply expunged from the pages of school text books and they now began with the 8th century invasion of Sindh by Arab commander, Muhammad Bin Qasim. The government’s post-1971 experiment to formulate a national ideology by severing Pakistan’s roots with South Asia had begun to kick in. Within a year, we jumped from 269 BCE to the 8th century AD because here is where the Muslims came into the picture (in the region). Qasim’s invasion and brief hold was limited only to the Sindh area and a part of south Punjab. No mass conversions to Islam took place under Qasim’s brief command in Sindh because the Arabs’ main thrust in the region was overwhelmingly undertaken due to the economic prospects that Sindh promised to the mighty Umayyad Caliphate operating from Syria. Obviously, this was not mentioned in our fifth grade history text book. Instead, the book suggested that Qasim’s invasion of Sindh was a gallant act of retribution against the area’s conniving Hindu king who had encouraged the pirates of the Arabian Sea to plunder Arab ships carrying Muslim pilgrims to perform Hajj. Almost all Muslim sources have stuck to the above narrative, even though sometimes the ships were said to be carrying wives and orphans of fallen Muslim warriors and sometimes carrying Arab trading cargo. Also, what our text books also failed to mention was the fact that Qasim’s invasion was not the first attempt made by the Arabs to find inroads into South Asia. Arab armies had tried to invade the region at least sixteen times before Qasim’s success! But this would have made the story of Qasim’s invasion a lot less gallant, and we would not have forgotten how infatuated we were with the story of Buddha only a year ago and now wondered whether a movie was on the way on Qasim’s exploits and his subsequent brave entry in our academic and nascent ideological lives.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 12th, 2014
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Post 01-01-2015 by N.F.P

Abul Ala Maududi: An existentialist history
Nadeem F. Paracha (N.F.P)

To most Pakistanis and to those who have been associated with various Islamic political outfits in countries like Egypt, Indonesia, Syria and Malaysia, Abul Ala Maududi is to 'Political Islam' what Karl Marx was to Communism.
Both western and South Asian historians have described him as one of the most powerful Islamic ideologues of the 20th century, whose ideas and writings went on to influence a vast number of Islamic movements in the Muslim world.
For example, the well-known British journal, The New Statesman, in its July 2013 issue, suggested that the impact of Maududi's ideas can be found in modern Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood (first formed in Egypt) and similar outfits across the Muslim realms, all the way to the more aggressive postures of men like Osama Bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda and once the most wanted terrorist in the world.
Ambitions and achievements
In Pakistan, Maududi is mostly remembered as an Islamic scholar who founded the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). But he also still remains a controversial figure here. To the left and liberal segments, he is remembered as the man who let the US use JI (during the Cold War) to undermine leftist and progressive politics in Pakistan, whereas many Islamic parties opposed to the JI once went on to declare him to be a religious innovator who attempted to create a whole new sect.

He arrived in Pakistan from India as a migrant and scholar with the ambition to turn what to him was a nationalistic abomination into becoming a 'true Islamic state' based on the laws of the shariah.
Maududi had formed his party in 1941 like a Leninist outfit in which a vanguard and select group of learned and 'pious Muslims' would work to bring an 'Islamic revolution' and do away with the forces of what Maududi called modern-day jahiliya (socialism, communism, liberal democracy, secularism and a faith 'distorted by innovators').
To that end, he began to lay down the foundations of what came to be known as 'Islamism' — a theory that advocated the formation of an Islamic state by first 'Islamising' various sections of the economy and politics so that a fully Islamised polity could be built to launch the final Islamic revolution.
Maududi's theories in this context attracted certain segments of Pakistan's urban middle-classes and was also adopted by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which tried to jettison the process through a 'jihad' within Egypt.
Not only did Maududi and his party face resistance from leftist groups, it also entered into a long tussle with Ayub Khan's secular/modernist dictatorship (1958-69), and with the ZA Bhutto regime, which was based on populist socialism (1971-77).
Maududi was also taken to task by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, which accused the JI of creating a separate Muslim sect called 'Maududiat'.
Explore: Parliamentary democracy, caliphate and Islamists.
Nevertheless, Maududi's ideas were eventually adopted by General Ziaul Haq, who had pulled off a successful military coup in July 1977 and then invited Maududi to help him shape policies to help make Pakistan a 'true Islamic country' run on 'Nizam-e-Mustafa.'
The course charted by Zia eventually mutated into becoming a destructive and highly polarising legacy that the state, politics and society of Pakistan has been battling with till this day.
But the irony is that none of what went down in the name of faith and 'Islamisation' during and after the Zia dictatorship was witnessed by the ideologue who had first inspired it, because Maududi passed away in 1979.
Not an all-out conservative — Maududi's existential journey
In all the noise that Maududi's career as a scholar, ideologue and politician generated, what got lost was the crucial fact that unlike most of today's Islamic scholars and leaders, Maududi did not emerge from an entirely conservative background.
His personal history is a rather fascinating story of a man who, after suffering from spats of existential crises, chose to interpret Islam as a political theory to address his own dilemmas.
He did not come raging out of a madressah, swinging a fist at the vulgarities of the modern world. On the contrary, he was born into a family in the town of Auranganad in colonial India that had relations with the modern and enlightened Muslim scholar, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.
Syed Ahmed Khan was one of the earliest architects of Muslim Nationalism in India — a nationalism that attempted to create a robust Muslim middle-class in India that was well-versed in the sciences, arts and politics of Europe, as well as in the more rational and progressive understanding of Islam. It was for this very purpose that he formed the MAO college (later known as Aligarh University).

The Aligarh University that was formed by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to modernise Muslim education in India.
Syed Ahmed convinced Maududi's father, Ahmed Hassan, to join the college against the wishes of Maududi's conservative paternal grandfather.
Incensed by the fact that his son had begun to wear 'Western clothes' and play cricket, Hassan's father pulled him out of the college and got him lectured by various clerics and ulema on how he was going against his faith by 'being overwhelmed by western lifestyle.'
Hassan soon renounced everything that had attracted him at the college and became extremely conservative and religious. When Maududi was born (1903), Hassan pledged not to give his son a western education.
So Maududi received his early education at home through private tutors who taught him the Quran, Hadith, Arabic and Persian. At age 12 Maududi, was sent to the Oriental High School whose curriculum had been designed by famous Islamic scholar, Shibli Nomani.

Apart from teaching Islamic law and tradition to the students, the school also taught Mathematics and English. Maududi then moved to an Islamic college, Darul Aloom, in Hyderabad. But he had to cut short his college education when his father fell sick and he had to travel to Bhopal to visit him. In Bhopal, the young Maududi befriended Urdu poet and writer, Niaz Fatehpuri.
Fatehpuri's writings and poetry were highly critical of conservative Muslims and the orthodox Muslim clergy, and on a number of occasions, various ulema had declared him to be a 'heretic.' But Fatehpuri soldiered on and had already begun to make a name for himself in Urdu literary circles when he met Maududi.
Inspired by Fatehpuri's writing style, Maududi too decided to become a writer. In 1919, the then 17-year-old Maududi moved to Delhi, where for the first time he began to study the works of Syed Ahmed Khan in full. This led to the study of major works of philosophy, sociology, history and politics by leading European thinkers and writers.
Maududi is said to have spent about five years reading books and essays authored by famous European philosophers, political scientists and historians, and he emerged from this vigorous exercise a man who claimed to have found the reason behind the rise of the West (and the fall of Muslim empires).
By now, he had also begun to write columns for Urdu newspapers. In one of his articles, he listed the names of those European scholars whose works and ideas, according to him, had shaped the rise of Western civilisation. The scholars that he mentioned in his list included German materialist philosopher, Hegel; British economist, Adam Smith; revolutionary French writers, Rousseau and Voltaire; pioneering evolutionist and biologist, Charles Darwin and many others.
With this article, he began to shape a narrative through his columns in which he emphasised the need (for Muslims) to study and understand Western political thought and philosophy and to 'master their sciences.' He said that one could not challenge anything that one did not understand.

It was also during this period that Maududi began to exhibit an interest in Marxism. At age 25, he became an admirer of the time's leading Marxist intellectual in India, Abdul Sattar Khairi, and then befriended famous progressive Urdu poet, Josh Malihabadi.
By the early 1930s, Maududi was living the life of a studious young man and journalist who also enjoyed watching films in the newly emerging cinemas of India and listening to songs. He married an independent-minded girl, Mehmuda, who was educated at a missionary school in Delhi, wore modern dresses and owned her own bicycle! There was no bar on her to wear a burqa.

The young Maududi (1927)
Despite all this, Maududi did retain some link with his past as the son of a very conservative man. In his quest to revive the lost tradition of Muslim intellectualism, he had also come close to India's main party of Sunni Deobandi Muslims, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind (JUH).
But at the same time, he also expressed admiration for the political and spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi. Though he never joined Gandhi's Indian National Congress (INC) himself, he did urge other Muslims to join it in his articles. He also authored biographies of Gandhi and another Congress ideologue, Pundit Malaviya.
Maududi was greatly dismayed by the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, and he blamed Turkish nationalists for it. When INC began to talk about an 'Indian Nationalism', something snapped in Maududi.
He had devoured every book on Western philosophy and history, but when the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the hands of Turkish nationalists, Maududi realised he had been highly underrating the power of modern nationalism all this time. This was one European concept he was not too familiar with.
Disenchanted by the Congress' Indian Nationalism and JUH's alliance with the party, Maududi retreated to the life of a husband who spent most of his time with his family, books, the occasional film and classical and semi-classical songs performed on stage.

In 1938, he bumped into Manzoor Nomani, a prominent Islamic scholar, who admonished him for distancing himself from his father's legacy, for not having a beard and living the life of a rudderless Muslim.
Already disappointed with the way the concept of nationalism was taking root in the minds of the Hindus and Muslims of India, Maududi retired back to his library, but this time to study Islam.
He now emerged with the theory that it wasn't really the greatness of modern Western thought that had been entirely responsible for the rise of European political power, but it was due to lack of conviction of the Muslims to practice their faith in the right manner that had triggered their fall and made room for European powers to enter.

In 1937, he vehemently attacked the INC's nationalism, accusing it of trying to subjugate the Muslims of India, but by the early 1940s he was being equally critical of Jinnah's All India Muslim League and of Muslim Nationalism.
He declared the League to be 'a party of pagans' and 'nominal Muslims' who wanted to create a secular country in the name of Pakistan.

Maududi's vehement attacks could not stop the sudden momentum that the League gained in 1946 and that helped it form an independent Muslim country in 1947.
In another ironic move, Maududi decided to leave India and head for a country that to him was an abomination and abode of nominal Muslims and the jahiliya. He began his political career in Pakistan in 1949, and it lasted on till 1979, when he passed away from illness in a US hospital. His funeral in Lahore was attended by thousands of admirers.
The many Maududis
Writing in the 'Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought', Irfan Ahmed suggests that there was not one Maududi but many.
By this, he meant that as a scholar and ideologue, Maududi's views were often derivatives of phases in his existential journey; one that saw him depart from the conservatism his father had tried to impose upon him and wholeheartedly embrace the freshness of European philosophical and political thought.
Maududi then bounced between Indian Marxism and the anti-colonial stances of Gandhi and Deobandi ulema (JUH), before settling for a quiet urban middle-class family life. But incensed by the rise of Muslim Nationalism, Maududi finally found his calling in the project of interpreting Islam's holy texts in a political light, and emerging with a complex theory that we now call Political Islam (aka 'Islamism').
Elements of organisational Leninism, Hegel's dualism, Jalaluddin Afghani's Pan-Islamism and various other modern political theories can be found in his innovative thesis, and that's why his thoughts not only managed to appeal to modern conservative Muslim movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and populist youth outfits such as the Islami Jamiat Taleba, but even the mujahideen who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan all the way to the more anarchic (if not entirely nihilistic) ways of men such as Osama Bin Laden.
But the question is, had Maududi been alive today, which one of the many Maududis out there would he have been most comfortable with?

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

soruce :


Also read: Maududi’s Children

Read on: Mistaking Maududi for Mao

Look through: Political Islam: Theory and reality

See: Why are matters of faith beyond discussion?

Explore: Political Islam: An evolutionary history

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A commercial break

If the content of a show displeases viewers, that displeasure also extends to the brands sponsoring the show.
The most recent battle on social media between supporters of civil society members who are picketing to oust ‘hate-mongers’ from TV news channels and those accusing the picketers of exhibiting as much extremism as the mongers do, took another interesting turn.

As the social media campaign against certain controversial characters accused of inciting violence and exhibiting religious bigotry on local news channels gathered pace, the campaigners added another dimension to their ongoing laments when they decided to also take to task those multinational and local companies who sponsor shows where the hosts or guests may include people accused of practicing hate-speech.

Despite some rather radical suggestions of treating the companies as accomplices, to the more moderate pleas of asking them to be a bit more prudent and sensitive, most protesters didn't really know exactly how such an issue should be tackled.

It’s amazing that in spite of the almost anarchic barrage of the jarring TV commercials that run over and over again as if spun into a maddening loop in between sports events and other programming on local TV channels, very few viewers seem to know much about the mindset of the companies and the advertising agencies that make them. Or more so, about the media buying houses that are responsible for determining during which show or sporting event (on TV) the ads are more likely to find the most receptive audience.

In the past I have had a pretty involved history with some of the country’s leading advertising agencies and I can safely suggest that by no means do the agencies and their clients have any diabolical agendas to spread bigotry, hatred or (on the other hand), vulgarity or subliminal allusions to unabashed promiscuity!

The truth is — and I’m sure such is also the case in advertising agencies around the world — most folks associated with advertising usually tend to be rather myopic.

Their world view is largely shaped and informed by the glossy literature authored by self-styled advertising and marketing gurus who go to great (and somewhat convoluted) lengths to prove that adverting is a crackling postmodern art-form and as well as a dynamic science.

Social behaviours of potential markets are understood not through insights provided by sociologists or anthropologists, and nor through related features appearing in newspapers and magazines. Instead advertising agencies, media houses and their clients often understand segments of the society that they are interested in through ‘surveys’ and ‘research’ dished out by commercial research outlets where marketing men and women imagine society to be a swath of consumers who spend most of their waking hours thinking about the thickness of milk, the strength of tea, the quick actions of a washing detergent and the fizz of a cola.

During a national advertising conference some seven years ago a colleague of mine interrupted a local ‘marketing guru’ as he was going on and on about how he had managed to turn a brand into an overnight sensation with his brilliant tactics. The brilliant tactics, however, were nothing more than convincing his client to bombard the private TV channels (that had started to emerge like weeds in unkempt garden) with ads of the brand.

This was also the time when the lawyers’ movement was at its peak and terrorists were out to ‘avenge’ the state’s action against the militant Red Mosque clerics. A bomb had gone off in an Islamabad market killing dozens of civilians.

‘Excuse me, sir,’ my colleague who was part of an agency’s creative department interrupted. ‘Your client’s glitzy TV commercial kept running between images of slaughter and bloodshed on TV. Don’t you think this gave the brand a negative image? As if its makers didn’t care or were residing on a different planet?’

To my surprise (or not really), my colleague’s question was met with sudden silence, not only from the guru but the whole hall went quiet too. It wasn’t an awkward silence, but a quietness suggesting that absolutely no one knew exactly what the question was about.

Such things do not quite come into the equation when advertisers, media houses or their clients plan out their marketing strategies. After all, what are they to do with social or political issues, right?

During my last days in advertising I tried to convince the agencies and the clients that the political and social situation in the country was such that certain issues deemed as being ‘non-marketing’ may as well be determining the buying habits and psychology of the consumers.

The image of a brand was also beginning to be judged by the way it was being placed (through ads) on TV. There is rising evidence that ads of brands that keep repeating during cricket games eventually begin to cause repulsion.

With the way episodes of hate-speech on TV are being viewed and lamented after the Peshawar tragedy, the responsibility of the local and multinational companies who sponsor potentially controversial shows was bound to come up.

Because, indirectly at least, they do become accomplices. But as I mentioned earlier, on most occasions than not, the social and political myopia and, if I may add, the ignorance of most ad agencies and their clients combine to cause a failure to figure out the damaging equation: a potential consumer who is offended by a bigot on a show sponsored by a host of companies is more than likely to also develop a dislike for the brands that these companies are offering.

It’s about time ad agencies and their clients finally develop at least some political and social sense that goes beyond what they are fed in the shape of surveys riddled with marketing jargon and clichéd scenarios that treat consumers not as multilayered social groups, but as men and women only concerned about what they see on the shelves of shops and supermarkets.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 4th, 2015
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And we'll not fail." _Shakespeare, 'Macbeth')
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After the Peshawar attack: The positive confusion

Why would Pakistanis give a fig about protecting warped concepts of faith, democracy, morality, justice?
Is there anything called a positive confusion? I ask this after assuming that confusion is inherently a not-so-comfortable (if not entirely) negative emotion.

Even if there is nothing so positive about confusion, sometimes it does have the potential to trigger something a lot more worthy.

Allow me to explain: In Pakistan a negative confusion has started to be overrun by a positive confusion that has the potential to generate clarity in thought and action that’s been missing for quite some time within the country’s politics, state and civil society.

We have all bemoaned about how an awkward strand of confusion has gripped the society regarding the nation’s understanding of all that has been transpiring in Pakistan in the name(s) of faith, honour, democracy, morality, justice, etc.

For example, till even the dastardly terrorist attack on school children in Peshawar late last year, the so-called apologist narrative that goes out of its way to subliminally obfuscate the malevolent deeds of religious extremists by pointing the finger at some elusive (and sometimes imaginary) forces, was clearly outweighing the narratives of those who were pleading to see the extremists as they were and still are: malicious beings, almost to the point of being nonhuman.

At times even the victims of extremist terror have not been spared by the apologists.

But, alas, the Peshawar attack that took the lives of over a hundred school children shocked the nation’s muddled state of mind and triggered at least some sort of clarity about where we had been all these years: in a state of convoluted denial and socio-political neurosis that continued to understand acts of psychosis as those of liberation, defiance, conspiracy, et al.

Yes, this time the shock was far more real and lot more widespread, but this has happened before, hasn't it? A brutal attack, sudden shock, condemnations ...?

But unlike in the past when terrorist action and peoples’ reactions were quickly diluted and deflected with the on-cue-arrival of the obfuscators (in the electronic and social media), this time around it was clear that the apologists’ narrative had been stretched as much as it could and was wearing thin, enough to finally break into many pieces.

It did seem like a sudden awakening that even left the government — headed by a party once accused of having sympathies with at least some batches of extremist groups — drastically shake off its paralysis and conjure some truly extraordinary legislation in the parliament and the senate against terrorism.

The truth is it wasn’t quite as sudden. The unfortunate episode of carnage in Peshawar just worked as a catalyst to unleash a counter-narrative that, though, has been building in certain social and intellectual circles and political parties, did not come into force as much as it has begun to now; or more so, ever since it began emerging in one of the state’s strongest and most influential institutions: the military-establishment.

The irony of it all is that over the decades, the military-establishment has often been accused of generating narratives and actors (for questionable ‘strategic purposes’) that have eventually turned into self-serving and anarchic monsters devouring everything in their path.

But quietly something in this regard began to change when Raheel Sharif became the head of the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). According to a 2013 BBC profile of him, the general played a key role in presiding over a change of military thinking since 2007.

Being also an academic and strategist, his analytical deductions led to the insistence that religious militants had become a major threat to the state and to the armed forces and that the military needed to radically reassess and re-evaluate its strategy regarding the presence of militant groups on Pakistani soil.

The BBC report also quoted some of the general’s closest colleagues as saying that during his last tenure at the PMA, he reshaped nearly all the important training courses, bringing them in line with the challenges of internal terrorism.

When he was selected to become the country’s new Army Chief by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the PM was quite aware of the inevitability of the coming conflict between the state and the militants.

While going through the futile motions of ‘peace talks’ to exhaust his party (the PML-N) and that of the PTI and of the religious parties’ mantras of striking peace with a rather anarchic enemy, the PM chose an army chief who was perhaps the clearest in his head about how a cohesive military, political and even intellectual battle had to be fought with such an anarchic and yet organised foe.

With this coming to pass, what is emerging now is a positive confusion. This confusion is different from the one that it seems to be replacing, but it’s still confusion — though prone more to evolve into becoming something a lot more clear and less awkward.

To begin with, this is a confusion submerging those who for years have insisted that the confusion related to the issue of religious militancy and terror in Pakistan is not confusion at all but something less diabolic. But they are the ones now who seem suddenly confused.

The source of their confusion is General Raheel Sharif. He seems to be a self-consumed character, a thinking man’s soldier, entirely focused on and sure about a robust doctrine he’s been developing for years.

He’s also not an exhibitionist and keeps his cards close to his chest because after all he’s trying to unfold a doctrine that is challenging various dogmas doing the rounds in the armed forces ever since the days of Gen Zia in the 1980s.

It is this and his psychological disposition that make him come across as an enigma even to those who once thought were close to the military-establishment. Though he has successfully driven the PM and the parliament to become important parts of a doctrine aimed at whipping out militancy and terror in the country, his drive and mystery have also left some sections feeling confused.

And the confused in this regard include the two most recent vocal shapers of national narratives in Pakistan: The religious parties and the judiciary/lawyers.

The religious parties have been enjoying a long run ever since the 1980s to determine what it means to be a ‘good Muslim’ (and thus a patriotic Pakistani), whereas the judiciary and the lawyers came into prominence after the 2007 ‘Lawyers Movement’, believing they have finally figured out how to deliver ‘true democracy’, constitutionalism and justice in Pakistan.

Of course, many things have gone terribly wrong in both the cases because the country continued to plunge into an abyss. Nevertheless, as a majority of Pakistanis quite clearly like what Gen Sharif and the parliament are now promising to do, the lawyers (who promised some sort of a judicial utopia in 2007) and the religious parties (some of who behaved as if criticising the militants was akin to criticising Pakistan’s Islamic republic-ism), have both gone into a confused tailspin.

Parties such as Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat Ulema Islam (both once considered to be close to the military-establishment) are throwing up their arms, fearing the emergence of a ‘liberal Pakistan’ and a very different ( post-Ziaist) general, while the lawyers are feeling insulted by the emergence of military courts.

Now, the question is how much do the completely stressed out people of Pakistan really care about safeguarding certain entirely abstract notions of faith, democracy, morality, justice? And for what — the pleasures of a hearty debate followed by the horrors of anarchic carnage? Please.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 11th, 2015.
"But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we'll not fail." _Shakespeare, 'Macbeth')
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Religious science: Riding the chariots

When science is divided into secular and religious, it is progress that suffers
‘Pilots in ancient India were flying aircraft not only around the world, but from planet to planet as well …’ This was claimed by some speakers during a session titled ‘Ancient Indian Aviation Technology’ at the Indian Science Conference in Mumbai early this month.

Many Indian scientists have flinched after hearing such claims made during what was supposedly meant to be a serious conference on scientific research in India — especially after the country was successful in launching a probe to Mars recently.

The irritated scientists lamented the attempt of some of their contemporaries to ‘mix mythology with science’ and at the ‘infiltration of pseudo-science in science curricula with backing of influential (right-wing) political parties …’

Sounds familiar? It should. We saw and heard similar claptrap being peddled as ‘science’ in Pakistan in the 1980s, decades before the Indians began to explain the mythical flying chariots of the deities of ancient Hinduism as nuclear-powered flying machines that zipped to and fro and around the world at great speeds.

In the ‘rational West’ such fantastical and anachronistic ideas are usually associated with conspiracy nuts (some best-selling ones, mind you); or they are usually used to mould some intriguing plots of various sci-fi films, TV shows and novels. But one never expects them to appear in the more serious scientific journals and conferences.

Nevertheless, decades before some Indian ‘scientists’ decided to turn their ancestors into jet plane pilots and ancient astronauts, we were trying to work out mathematical equations that would help us extract electricity from the djinns and pin-point the exact location of heaven in space.

In his 1991 book, Islam & Science: Religious Orthodoxy & The Battle for Rationality, well-known Pakistani physicist and intellectual, Dr Parvez Hoodbhoy, tells us how in the mid-1980s millions of rupees were dished out by certain oil-rich Arab countries and the Gen Zia dictatorship in Pakistan to hold lavish seminars in Islamabad dedicated to celebrate the validity of ‘Islamic science’.

In such seminars scientists of dubious qualifications were invited from around the Muslim world to spend dozens of hours and thousands of rupees (and riyals) by discussing theories and equations about entirely mythical notions and allegorical allusions. The idea was to construct an ‘Islamic science.’

Such a notion also perturbed men like the prolific author of Muslim cultural history and scientists, Ziauddin Sardar. He is of the view that such an exercise only manages to discourage Muslims from seeking the authentic sciences that can improve their communities.

Before the late 1970s. Islamic science usually meant the pioneering works produced in the fields of mathematics, geometry, astronomy, chemistry and philosophy by a number of noted Muslim academics and scholars between the 8th and 14th century CE. In other words, it was about science pioneered, practiced and taught by men who also happened to be Muslims.

In his book, Desperately Seeking Paradise, Sardar explains how from the late 1970s onwards, the whole idea about Islamic science began to be turned on its head thanks to a brain wave emitting from the oil-rich Saudi monarchy.

The Saudi government began pumping in ‘Petro-Dollars’ in projects designed to supposedly bring contemporary Islamic thought at par with ‘Western science’.

But this seemingly noble sounding idea wasn’t set into motion by investing money into schools, colleges and universities in Muslim countries in an attempt to upgrade and modernise their curriculum and teaching standards.

Instead, the big Petro Dollars went into hiring ‘scientists’ whose job it was to generate evidence that ‘secular science’ was inferior to ‘Islamic science.’

The 1976 publication of Maurice Bucaille’s The Bible, Quran and Science finally laid out exactly what the new concept of Islamic science would mean.

The book became a sensation in the Muslim world but at the same time left a number of Muslim scientists baffled by what Bucaille was suggesting.

The book is a fascinating read. It claims that various scientific phenomenon discovered by modern Western scientists had already been predicted and explained in the Muslim holy scriptures. However, one would have sat up and taken a bit more notice of the claims made by Bucaille had he actually been a scientist. But he wasn’t.

Maurice Bucaille was a French medical doctor, who in 1973 was appointed as the personal physician of Saudi monarch, King Faisal.

His critics suggested that the Muslim holy book was primarily a moral guide that also persuaded people to understand God’s world around them in a rational manner. They explained that religious scriptures are moralistic in nature, not political or scientific. They thus went on to insist that the entirely objective nature of science is such that it cannot be called Western, Eastern, religious or secular.

But the damage was done and the popular imagination of the Muslims captured - ironically through the flimsy claims of a Christian French physician who remained to be Christian till his death!

So, it was only natural that Pakistan’s reactionary dictator, Gen Zia, would be the man to green light a seminar of Muslim ‘scientists’ who met in Islamabad in 1986 to unveil the wonders of ‘Islamic science’. Seminars in which so-called learned men actually set about discussing things like how to generate energy and electricity from djinns; how to calculate the ‘speed of heaven’, etcetera, etcetera …

Yes, such was the babble many Muslim governments in the 1980s were investing their money and efforts in while continuing to struggle to up the dismal literacy rates in their respective countries.

This practice actually sanctified an unscientific bend of mind in the Muslim world. Such fanciful gabble did not produce skilful scientists, but rather, a populace fed on pulpy pseudo-scientific twaddle shaped by overpaid groups of cranks calling themselves scientists.

However, more interesting is the fact that those who tried to convolute such notions were actually mimicking a fanciful idea that had already emerged from the fringes of Christian and Hindu societies.

Certain Hindu and Christian theologians had already laid an entitlement to the practice of claiming that their respective holy books held divinations of scientifically proven phenomenon.

They began doing so between the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas Muslims got into the act only in the 20th century.

Johannes Heinrich’s Scientific Vindication of Christianity (1887) is one example, while Mohan Roy’s Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism is another way of observing how this thought has actually evolved from the fantastical claims of the followers of other faiths.

Muslim critics of this trend accuse such theorists in the Muslim world of discouraging Muslims to gain empirical knowledge by going out in the field or testing out their theories in the labs. They suggest that God encourages his followers to understand the natural world through (authentic) scientific inquiry.

They lament that not only is the said trend doing a great disservice to science, but to the ‘rational nature of the Muslim faith’ as well.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 18th, 2015.
"But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we'll not fail." _Shakespeare, 'Macbeth')
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End of the past

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born” — Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci
Since ages, certain sections of the Pakistani intelligentsia have been insisting on the importance of changing the country’s national narrative (to better fight the social aspects of Pakistan’s war against religious extremism).

They are correct in suggesting that the more militant ogres now at war with the state of Pakistan in the mountains, hills and even in some congested areas of urban Pakistan, are (in a way) armed expressions and projections of a rather myopic and suspicious national narrative.

This narrative, to them, is the result of whatever that was concocted in the name of a national ideology many years ago and then proliferated through school text books and the state-owned media until it began to inform the political and social mindset of the Pakistani polity as a whole.

So what was this narrative? And why even today the military and political establishments of the country are finally looking to tweak it, if not replace it outright?

The narrative is largely blamed for popularising a peculiar idea of nationhood that sees Pakistan as a unique state based on a rather ill-defined version of the Muslim faith — a state at odds with enemies who are constantly conspiring to undo it.

Many now believe that once this idea leapt out from school text books and began to influence the constitution and state policies, it started to encourage both vigilante as well as state-backed maneuvers that were violent and at times outright bigoted but explained away as actions undertaken to defend the country’s rather abstract religious rims and ideological whims.

Furthermore, all this infused a dangerous strain of confusion among large sections of the Pakistani polity. And consequently, the polity did not know exactly how to respond to (or sometimes even condemn) actions undertaken in the name of religion.

Alas the death of over 50,000 thousand civilians, soldiers, policemen and politicians at the hands of extremists and mainly due to last month’s horrendous terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar has finally managed to shake large sections of the Pakistani public and the military and political establishment to at least begin to question ideas that so openly encourage such carnages in the country.

When the narrative — that today is increasingly being seen as a beast of sorts — was first constructed, it did not foresee the fact that one day it will radically transfigure and begin to actually retard the country’s political and social evolution.

The first major move to construct this narrative was made in the early 1970s by the populist and left-leaning government of Z.A. Bhutto (PPP).

A subject called Pakistan Studies was introduced in the national curriculum in 1972 by the Bhutto regime.

Over the decades, Pakistan Studies books have gradually evolved into becoming one-dimensional manuals of how to become and behave like a ‘true Pakistani’.

Though the content in these books pretends to be of a historical nature, it is anything but. It is a monologue broken into various chapters about how the state of Pakistan sees, understands and explains the country’s history, society and culture, and the students are expected to believe it.

It’s an instruction manual that was introduced as a compulsory subject (almost in a panic) by the Bhutto regime soon after the country lost its eastern wing (East Pakistan) after a brutal civil war.

In 1973 the government organised a large conference in which some of the country’s leading intellectuals, historians and scholars were invited. They were encouraged to debate and thrash out a nationalist narrative that could then be turned into a state ideology and imposed through legislative means and school text books.

In a nutshell the emerging narrative that came out from this exercise went something like this: West Pakistan was always the real Pakistan because it’s a cohesive and seamless region that runs from north to south along the mighty Indus River. This region’s population had predominately been Muslim (ever since the 12th Century), and though it may have a number of ethnicities, its population has similar views on Islam and had largely remained aloof from the happenings in India’s ancient seat of power in Delhi.

This meant that the Bengali East Pakistan that lay thousands of miles away from West Pakistan was an unnatural part of what had appeared on the map as Pakistan in 1947.

The narrative was created to soften the blow of East Pakistan’s separation and the Bhutto government sanctioned the project to construct an ideological narrative that would help the state redeem the floundering belief in a united Pakistan.

This was the immediate aim. But as the Bhutto government came under increasing criticism from the religious parties, it began to move rightwards and tried to occupy the space that it believed was being created by a so-called religious revivalism taking place at the time in the Muslim world.

Consequently the narrative began to be increasingly expressed through populist religious symbolism and finally became consolidated as a staunchly reactionary entity once the Ziaul Haq dictatorship took over (July 1977) and further honed the narrative to justify the regime’s draconian laws (enacted in the name of faith) and to also whip up support for the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan.

What we have been witnessing in the last 20 years or so are the effects of the failure of this narrative. It became a convenient ideological, legislative and rhetorical tool for military dictators and politicians alike to influence and subdue a growingly muddled and conservative populace.

Eventually such a narrative also became a weapon in the hands of influential clerics and radical outfits that believed that they alone were worthy and willing to turn Pakistan into what the narrative had described the country to be: ‘A bastion of faith’.

Our collective failure lies in us not fully understanding how the state’s experiments in the context of seeding a non-organic ideology has contributed the most in whatever that has gone down in this country in terms of faith-based violence and the ever increasing episodes of bigotry.

It has thrown Pakistan further towards the wrong side of history. This must stop. We are in a dire need of a new narrative.

The present government must make use of the growing consensus against extremism and replicate what the government did in 1973. It should organise an expansive conference and invite the country’s leading intellectuals, media personnel, historians, artistes, and religious and secular scholars, and encourage them to generate a brand new existential narrative of Pakistani nationhood that can replace the one that has destructively failed.

This conference of resourceful and well-informed minds should then come up with a new narrative that would once and for all help Pakistan survive and grow into a multicultural, progressive and modern Muslim nationalist state and society.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 25th, 2015
"But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we'll not fail." _Shakespeare, 'Macbeth')
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